After venturing to the far, far, far North where time seems to stand still and the sun doesn’t set in the summer of 2017, it was quite apparent I would be back. Partly because Pukka Travels operates in the far North, and partly because this is a one of a kind destination I almost feel bad exposing. A destination that has yet to be exploited on social media (partly because there is no phone service after leaving Longyearbyen), and partly because it is such a remote place to travel to.
This year, we chose a 3 night, 4 day mission to Svalbard with Robert and his family on-board Duen III, a cozy 72 foot sailing ship with just as much character in her crew as the stories she could tell (if only the walls could talk).
Our original plan was to see walruses, glaciers & Cole’s Bay as you can see here: but when word hit there was a chance to see Polar Bears further south than normal we took a chance and took a different route.
Day 1: whale whale whale, what do we have here
After a safety briefing, a coffee & a few laughs we set sail. “We have one more hour of internet connection, so say your good-byes for a few days” Øyvind exclaimed as Duen made her way North.
As we were on our way to an “ice zone” with many seals and subsequently potential polar bear sightings, chatter on the radio broke out “Duen, shall we go to channel 10” <switches channels> there is a blue whale 15 nautical miles away, we are here now and she is a beauty. Øyvind made the swift decision of turning the wheel sharply to the left and John felt the frigid waters splash against his face… and entire body as he was out on deck enjoying the cool breeze as Duen cut swiftly through the swell.
An hour later, we searched high and low for a 12 meter high blast of mist from a blue whale, the world’s largest mammal weighing over 170 tones. Rumor has it, their hearts are the size of a small car. Maybe that is why they are seen as such majestic creatures. All eyes were on deck when we spotted her from about a kilometer away. She graciously passed us with a little hello while resurfacing. With an estimated 12,000 left on earth, it was a pleasure crossing paths with such a regal creature.
After our encounter, we decided to drop anchor in Coles Bay for the night, a desolate mining town that we also visited last year. It took around 3 hours to get there.
David prepared a lovely meal and we called in an early night after being exhausted from the day.
Day 2: “The Ice Zone” and Desolate Mining Towns
After a hearty breakfast at 08:00, we were on our way to an Ice zone where there had been polar bear sightings within the past week. One thing to note about Svalbard is that it really is the wild wild north up here. The wind changes with the drop of a dime and it really is an unpredictable place to have “set plans” – with 55 crazy winds clocked in the night before, we had a 5 hour sail in front of us with the wind coming straight into our path.
The boat danced with the swells and was showered with salt water from the sea. “Stare at the horizon and go outside if you are starting to get ill, have some ginger to help out with the nausea” – A silence came over the boat as we all tried our best not to get ill. We were up in the captain’s saloon glancing for polar bears, sharing stories about trappers and other Svalbard hunters in the meantime.
When arriving to the area, we realized the weather also took a toll on the frozen ice field as it looked like broken glass floating over calm waters from the storm the night before. We saw a seal lounging on an iceberg, but were unable to get closer to the shore to see if any polar bears were around.
We made the decision of going towards Pyramiden, which meant another 5 hour sail with the wind straight at us. We collectively said let’s do it, and was on our way after a hearty cauliflower soup and freshly baked bread for lunch.
Pyramiden is a desolate Russian Cole mining town that was closed in the 1980’s – at one point, this was a hustling city with over 1000 people, a swimming hall and even a school. Now all that remains is the design of a previous era, a hotel and a bar. We wandered in between our polar bear protectors, had a beer at the pub and made our way back to Duen for a safe nights sleep.
Day 3: Glacier Island & Longyearbyen
On our third day, we woke up to the sounds of birds chirping and icebergs floating with the wind. We were anchored near a glacier and we could certainly feel the difference in the dry, cool air.
As we approached closer and dropped anchor, we marveled over its beauty and geared up to go on land. The powerful thing about glaciers is the constant motion. They withhold such power, and are one of the most beautiful pieces of art mother nature has created (in my opinion at least). You can hear it crack, roar and even calf into the sea. A powerful crack, and crash thus releasing a one meter rolling wave along the coast line. It certainly makes one realize the duties we have as humans to preserve these sights, and hopefully create action in our lives to do better for the greater good.
We sat and listened for quite sometime before heading back to the boat before heading back to Longyearbyen.
In classic Svalbard fashion, the wind drastically changed direction again so we powered through another 5 hours of powerful waves.
After landing in Longyearbyen, we enjoyed a Norwegian Taco Night, went for a walk around town and shared stories from the weekend.
Day 4: The Seed Vault
The group wandered over to the Global Seed Vault holding 4.5 million different seed types while I stayed on the boat, worked & watched the team make waffles before we said goodbye. I think the seed vault is one of the coolest projects on our planet, though fingers crossed we won’t need many of them in the near future.
I am now on a plane back to Tromsø and though I did not see a polar bear (again), I am grateful for the experience and somehow glad that it is not guaranteed to see such a majestic creature in the wild. I enjoy destinations that are relatively untouched and hope polar bears stay hidden to keep this place a “hidden” secret from the world. I’m convinced I will see one of these creatures in the wild at some point in the future, but if not, their mystery will always remain.
Until next time Svalbard.